A Fist Full of Essays

Great UKSG conference last week, despite coming back with a horrible fluey cold that left me pretty much wiped out for the entire Easter weekend (and still recovering).  I’ll write that up this weekend.  So instead here’s my part-week which will be all about marking the Face to Face to Facebook essays.

Wednesday 8th April

  • 9.00: On the dot fire up the work account, checking emails from the module leader.  Couple of students have withdrawn and a few high Turnitin scores to take particular note of.
  • 9.10: Access NOW backend (the VLE) and start slowly going through the list of student submissions for the ones in my groups.  Yes it would be easier if I could just display those in my groups, but no that useful facility is missing.  Slow clap for the designers.
  • 9.20: Done, but there’s quite a few students missing in the list – so have to search for them.  Ah, the names they’re listed by here aren’t the same as the names they have listed in the register.  Nice little bit of consistency, so correct my marking spreadsheet so it’s sync with the Dropbox list.  Should be 84 essays for me to mark in total…11 are missing.  Well that’s 13% completion for me without really any heady lifting.
  • 9.30: Download essays as zipfile, try to extract but native zipping can’t handle the daft long files names that some students give their files; not to mention the prefix extensions that NOW slips on them too.  Thankfully I’ve got 7Zip which makes short work of the extraction.  As there are 14 different essay topics, next job is to sort all the essays into those tackling the same topic, which I found last year makes it easier to grade like for like.  Hoping there’s not too many tackling Freud this year!
  • 9.35: Need for 2nd cup of the tea for the day rising…also I really ought to put some socks on.  [Current marking music: Total Eclipse of the Heart].
  • 9.55: Drinking tea and taking a moment to catch up on my student email. And discover I won the travel scholarship I applied for.  So that’s 1 grand towards my Vienna conference – I am to say the least, delighted.  Phone Mrs Llama to share the news.  It was, out of ~150 emails, the only one of any value I received over Easter.
  • 10.05: Okay, enough excitement – need to knuckle back down to marking.  Or at least the preparation which seems to take longer than the actual grading.
  • 10.25: Coughing fit.  Blurgh.  So not over this cold yet.  [Current marking music: Eg a Lif]
  • 10.55: Right, essays all grouped.  Popular topics look like piracy, public service broadcasting and leadership.  That’s good, topics I love discussing.  No love though for the questions around globalisation (not surprising, not got to that on the module yet) or conversation analysis (darn, that’s a fascinating topic!).  Right, time to head on in to the marking finally! [Current marking music: Love as a Construct]
  • 12.22: Gah. Struggled through a difficult one there and agonised over the mark.  Not a great piece of work, but trying to work out if the student had put effort into it or if it really was as slapdash a piece as it appeared in part.  [Current marking music: Theme from Thunderbirds].  [17% completed.]
  • 12:53: Okay, I need a lunch break.
  • 15:20: I have a sinus headache (legacy of the cold and staring at the screen).  This is making marking less than fun right now.
  • 16:30: Finished marking the first topic, moving on to the second which means I need to open my various lecture notes as well.  First essay on a topic is always the hardest to mark.
  • 17.20: Agonising over another essay – well written…but doesn’t answer the question. Which means I have to give it a much lower grade than it deserves.  Think I’ll ask for this one to be 2nd marked, as that seems a fairer solution.
  • 17.36: Oh sweet Jovis.  Just read (and then re-read three times) a sentence that frankly has broken my ability to think.  Think I might just write “NOOOOOO!” in the feedback.
  • 17:57: Grrr.  Had to break off to explain to Mrs Llama that just because I’m working at home, doesn’t mean I can be roped in to do things she needs doing!  Desperately trying to get through my last essay of the day and the distraction is not appreciated.  Wish bloody NTU gave me an office to work in (for about the 1,000 time).  It’ll now take me 5 minutes to recover my train of thought.
  • 18:15: Okay long note written on that one to try and encourage the student to overcome the issues they had with that essay.  Think I’m calling it a day and am off into the garden to let my brain decompress!

Thursday 9th

  • 9.05: Okay, today I’m going to mark all those essays that only one or two students attempted to see where that gets me too.  [25% completion of marking.]
  • 9.14: Oh dear, the references. Oh, the references.  Seems once again this year I’m going to be marking a lot of essays down for poorly formatted references then.
  • 10.24: Right, that’s transnational media, migrants and the 4th estate topics dealt with.  Onto nation branding, persuasion and suicide prevention (yes, some of these topics are less cheerful than others!)
  • 10.53: PC crash!  Gah!  Oh phew, thankfully autobackup and paranoid saving regime means I lose about 3 minutes of work while the machine reboots – but that’s it!
  • 11.34: Making tea and taking pain killers.  Lovely sinus headache today too (it only hurts really badly when I cough).  Then back to reading essays about suicide.
  • 13.10: Okay, time for lunch. Gah, only 35% through now.
  • 14.05: Back to it, investigative journalism and Wikileaks is a go!  You’ll note I’ve given up listening to music today to better focus on these essays.
  • 15:10: Arg! Painfully bad essay marking am I. Follow struggling language and phrase taking, in sentence.  Usual self-enlargement now to decide if it is bad enough to fail or scrape a pass.  Takes so much longer to mark the lower graded papers than the good ones, as aside from the amount of feedback I write – I really have to think hard about where to put them on the grade curve.
  • 15:33: Genuinely good essay, has just reaffirmed my belief in humanity.
  • 17:40: Okay, Mrs Llama needs me to run errands for her.  Going to have to stop here.  Only 45% of the way through – gah, will be working this weekend on these I can tell!

Friday 10th

  • WikiLeaks...you bad rat!
    WikiLeaks…you bad rat!

    9.05: Here goes nothing and…oh damn, thought I’d marked all the essays on Wikileaks, but looks like I missed one.  That’ll teach me to watch South Park  episode Bass to Mouth (the Wikileaks one) to celebrate getting through them.

  • 9.45: Read work email, some student questions to answer later it seems (not so straight forward answers – will save them for my elevenses I think.
  • 9.55: Okay, today I move onto Freud, communication, broadcasting and democracy essays.  What fun, given some of these are going to be quite hard work to mark (if last year was anything to go on).
  • 10.22: A rash of essays where no in text citations.  Dear students, please meet plagiarism risk…
  • 10.45: Half way through Freud, time for my mother.  I mean a break!  Oh dear, what a slip.  Luckily Mrs Llama is making me some tea (since she’s working from home).  Slightly annoying as I like being able to walk away from the PC for a bit to make the tea, but it would be churlish of me to refuse the offer.
  • 11:30: Broken off for a few minutes twitter debate over the local election candidates for MP.  Red, blue, green, yellow and vile purple standing here it seems.  No Monster Loonies – a shame…but I wouldn’t be voting for them anyway.
  • 12:03: And that’s Freud done for this year.  Phew, those are always the brain strainers.  Onto leadership I think now.
  • 13.05: Lunch, and a spot of all new Daredevil I think.
  • 14:00: Right, let’s see how far through the rest of them i can get before close of play today!
  • 16:00: Eye blurring as I work through essays on leadership.
  • 16:45: Heart break. Had to very harshly mark one essay, where the student has really had a good go, but has really not to grips with the subject.
  • 17:16: No, no, no!  Another essay that is making me cross!
  • 17:43: Okay, since Mrs Llama is off on a business trip tomorrow, stopping now to spend some more time with her.  I shall keep on marking over the weekend though with the hope that I’ll not need to spend all of Monday marking as well.  Biggest problem with these essays are all the different topics – if there was just one topic by now I’d be flying through them!

Saturday 11th

  • 17.15: Urg. Working on a Saturday.  Wouldn’t normally do this, but I still have 32% of the essays to mark.  also Mrs Llama is now out of the country for 10 days, so I’m trying to keep myself occupied and distracted from how isolated I’ll be over that time (bar teaching, I suspect I won’t actually have much face-2-face interaction).  Right let’s open the first one and crack on.
  • 17:40: Open essay, insert page break, reformat opening page to landscape, insert object from file, marking grid, enter student details.  You know I wish NTU would reformat this bloody grid to portrait (since that’s what 99.9% of students write in) or we made it a punishable-by-failure* task for the students to do this step for themselves.  (*I jest…slightly, but doing this 80 odd times does slow me down!)
  • 18:48: Right, did one more essay than I planned to do in this stint.  But I’ve made some more progress towards my goal.  Another couple of hours tomorrow and I think I’ll be down to just one topic to mark – the most popular one by far – media piracy!

Sunday 12th

Didn’t feel like doing any marking today – so spent most of an hour adding the marking grid to the front of all the remaining essays.  So it’ll save me some time tomorrow.  Yes, I am having a fun Sunday, thanks.

Monday 13th

  • 7.50: Yeah, you read that time right – I’m kicking off early today, getting everything opened up and ready for marking.  Planning to work straight through until I get these finished…might well be a 12hr day I suspect.  Might be less if all the remaining essays are brilliantly original, well written and cited, not to mention not in the teeny tiniest bit plagerised.  That’d make it a slam dunk to give them all 2:1s or 1sts.  I suspect though I may be very, very disappointed with this optimistic view.
  • 8.00: Here we go again, open and start with the references to check them to begin with
  • 8.10: Trying to eat cereal with one hand and mark with the other isn’t working.  Need to eat then mark it seems.
  • 9.10: Struggling a bit with an essay which through the fog of words I can see is trying to make some good points.  But not sure it’s really hitting the mark.
  • 9.26: Reading work emails, and trying to sort out some issues with the forthcoming group assignment.  Just like last year some groups I think are working out better than others.  No shock there, but feel for the students going through the process – I’ve suffered enough group fragmentation and problems in the real world, let alone university!
  • 9.55: Well that was a real curates egg of an essay.
  • 10:35: Interruption- it’s the Wife calling from Chile.  I guess I better break off and chat to her then.
  • 10:55: Well that was fun if a bit like talking to an autotuned robot at times (frame rate wasn’t brilliant).  Think it’s time for a mid-morning cup of tea.
  • 12:15: Have reached the point where I wish I could teach my students a hour long seminar on how to bloody reference and cite correctly.  I know it’s my inner librarian but so many poor examples across the essays, not to mention people using dodgy sources, insufficient references and struggling to understand the difference between citation, paraphrasing and direct quoting.  Feels like it is so much worse than last year’s essays – doubtless a result of the Government’s national curriculum agenda which teaches school students to pass exams, but doesn’t teach them the scholarly skills they actually need to succeed in academia!  Maybe NTU should employ me to teach this… (or you know, just employ me full stop!)
  • 12:25: One reference only?  Sheesh.
  • 12.58: Okay, time for a lunch break!
  • 14:10: Begrudgingly…back to work.
  • 15.47: Finding it very hard to concentrate.  Man, I hate marking.
  • 16:30: Time for more tea.  Lots and lots of tea.
  • 17:35: Break to check email and discover I’m giving a lecture at NTU next week.  okay, that’ll be the next thing I have to write once I finish these essays then.  Slowly dawning on me that I will not be getting through all of these today – and beginning to debate how many more I will get through before I lose the will to live.  Or at least mark.  89% done…but that still means 9 more essays.  Let’s see where I am in an hour!
  • 17.43: Oh dear, just wrote a note saying “References should be in Z-A order”.  May be losing it earlier than expected.  Caught it though, so perhaps still okay.
  • 18:43: right that’s it, I’m done.  93% completed now – but as I’ve been at this almost 11hrs (bar lunch okay), I’m calling it quits to go and paint a radiator.  Yes, the thrills keep on coming.

Tue 14th

Well despite a groggy start to the morning I finished them all of before lunch.  Phew.  Just in time before I have to start doing the next batch of marking for my other module next week.  Arg!

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